Resident Evil 7 is the best installment in Capcom's flagship horror series since Resident Evil 4, and an early contender for 2017's game of the year awards.
When Resident Evil 6 was released in 2012, fans might have been worried that the biggest name in survival horror had once again lost its way. Fortunately, Resident Evil 7 demonstrates that the series has once again reinvented itself — and the end result is a truly outstanding experience.
There was good reason to be suspicious of the major changes Resident Evil 7 enacts upon the long-running horror franchise, its first-person perspective being chief among them. However, seeing the way that the whole package comes together, it's clear that the game was designed with one eye on its storied history, and another on its future. Resident Evil 7 is an attempt at something new and different. Its first-person perspective will be jarring for longtime fans of the series, but that quickly becomes a non-issue, at which point it's easy to see how the game uses classic mechanics liberally to maintain the traditional Resident Evil feeling.
Inventory management soon plays into proceedings. Resources are scarce, at least in the early part of the game, so players might have to decide between killing an enemy outright and simply outmaneuvring them. There's a clear emphasis on puzzles, some of which are based around awareness of the environment, and some more about collecting esoteric items and placing them into a contrived mechanism. It's classic Resident Evil fare, but it's been updated to suit modern tastes. For instance, the game's central mechanic of hiding from the malevolent members of the Baker family couldn't have been realized so well until relatively recently.
When hiding from the likes of family patriarch Jack, there's a sense of unpredictability that heightens the fear factor immeasurably. Set pieces that aired in the game's trailers may not take place when they're expected to — in fact, they might not take place at all. The first time an enemy bursts through a wall or door to take the player by surprise, it sets a precedent; don't take anything for granted while you're being pursued.
There are other ways in which one playthrough might differ from another. For instance, an early boss fight that takes place in the garage can potentially take a very different turn depending on the player's strategy. Individually, these differences are minor, but they add up to form a game that feels very dynamic.
Of course, some of the biggest scares on offer are baked into every playthrough. In the very early stages of the game, a character passes by an open doorway without warning and promptly disappears around a corner — it's terrifying, even in its simplicity. There are jump scares in Resident Evil 7, but they pale in comparison to the overbearing feeling of dread that permeates the entire game.
At the beginning of Resident Evil 4, there's a steady descent into panic as Leon Kennedy finds out exactly what kind of situation he's got himself into. Similarly, Resident Evil 7 wrings every last drop of tension out of the player's introduction to the Baker family and the place they call home. Even as terror begins to take hold, it's an engrossing experience.
Resident Evil 7 would perhaps still be a satisfying game if it were boiled down to its scares and its rich atmosphere. However, it doesn't just test players' courage, as its gameplay offers plenty of challenge, too. As mentioned, players need to keep an eye on their resources, which adds a strategic element to combat. Gunplay itself is no cakewalk, as environments offer little in the way of room to maneuvre, and enemies can move erratically. It's good to see that gameplay has been imbued with a sense of challenge, as it differentiates the game from more recent takes on first-person horror, and connects it with the wider Resident Evil franchise.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the game's boss fights, which can really test the player's abilities. Learning movement patterns and understanding an enemy's attacks can sometimes be essential to making any forward progress.
A few hours in, there's a point in Resident Evil 7 where players are given their biggest combat challenge so far, followed by a tricky boss fight. It's unforgiving, but hugely satisfying once it's done. More to the point, it's a sequence that will stay with players long after the credits roll.
Resident Evil 7 feels like a game that will be looked back on fondly in years to come. It remains to be seen which of its most memorable moments will be reminisced upon in the same way as the dogs breaking through the window in the original Resident Evil, or the first appearance of the chainsaw man in Resident Evil 4 — but there will certainly be new additions to the list of the franchise's best scares and most unforgettable encounters when the dust has settled on its most recent release.
For a time, it seemed that Resident Evil might be on its way to becoming a franchise that only set out to appeal to its existing fan base. But much like Resident Evil 4 before it, Resident Evil 7 is definitive proof that this is not the case. It's a great game that's bustling with creativity, and it's a gripping experience whether you're a fan of the horror genre or otherwise.
Resident Evil 7 is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Game Rant was provided Xbox One code for the purposes of this review.